The villages and lovely countryside around Telavi are full of fascinating places to visit. Public transport reaches many of them, but you can pack a lot more into your day by taking a taxi tour. Telavi drivers will take you to several destinations around Telavi in one trip, calling in at a couple of wineries too, for 60 to 70 GEL.
Lagodekhi Protected Areas
This remote, 244-sq-km nature reserve (www.apa.gov.ge) climbs to heights of over 3000m in the Caucasus, above the small town of Lagodekhi in Kakheti’s far eastern corner. If you’re heading this way to or from Azerbaijan, it’s a worthwhile stop. The reserve features deep river valleys, alpine lakes and some of Georgia’s best-preserved forests.
At the beginning of the 11th century, when Georgia was entering its cultural and political golden age, King Kvirike of Kakheti had a majestic cathedral built – at 50m high it remained the tallest church in Georgia for nearly a millennium. Alaverdi Cathedral, 20km northwest of Telavi, is Kakheti’s main spiritual centre.
This village, home of a famous white wine and site of the Chavchavadze family estate, lies 7km southeast of Telavi. Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846) was the son of Georgia’s first ambassador to Russia and godson of Catherine the Great, and also a poet and antitsarist activist (for which he spent time in exile).
On the border with Azerbaijan, Davit (or David) Gareja (or Gareji) is one of the most remarkable of Georgia’s historic sites, and makes a great day trip from Tbilisi, Sighnaghi or Telavi. Comprising about 15 old monasteries spread over a remote area, its uniqueness is heightened by a lunar, semidesert landscape that turns green and blooms with flowers in early summer.
Akhali Shuamta & Dzveli Shuamta
The churches of Akhali (New) Shuamta and Dzveli (Old) Shuamta are fine works of Georgian architecture among beautiful woodlands off the Gombori road west of Telavi. The convent of Akhali Shuamta, 11km from Telavi, was founded in the 16th century by the Kakhetian Queen Tinatin and is now a convent again after serving as an orphanage in Soviet times.
This picturesque brick citadel stands beside the Telavi–Kvareli road, 19km from Telavi. Kvareli-bound marshrutky from Telavi will stop here. From 1466 to 1672 Gremi was the capital of Kakheti, but all that remains of its market, baths, caravanserai, palace and houses after its devastation by Shah Abbas in 1616 are some not-very-distinctive ruins.
Bodbe Convent is 2km south of Sighnaghi, an enjoyable walk on country roads. Set among tall cypresses, the convent is dedicated to St Nino, who is buried here. The little church was originally built, over the saint’s grave, by King Mirian in the 4th century. It has been rebuilt and renovated several times since.
This monastery, beautifully situated in a cypress grove 8km northwest of Telavi, was one of two famous medieval Georgian aca-demies, the other being Gelati. Shota Rustaveli, the national poet, is thought to have studied here. The monastery was founded in the 6th century by Zenon, one of the 13 Syrian fathers.
Nekresi’s early Georgian architecture and the views across the vineyard-dotted Alazani valley from its hillside-woodland site are marvellous. The monastery is 4km off the Kvareli road from a turning 10km past Gremi (Kvareli-bound marshrutky from Telavi will drop you at the turn-off). Vehicles must park 1.
To reach Udabno, take the uphill path beside the church shop outside Lavra. Watch out for poisonous vipers on this route, including in the caves and especially from April to June. When you come level with a watchtower overlooking Lavra, take the path straight up the hill. In about 10 minutes you reach a metal railing.